Personal Defense Tip: Don’t Just Ask For An Attorney In the Aftermath of a Defensive Gun Use

by Tommy Grant

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If you haven’t thought about what to do and say after a use of force incident, you really should. After all, you don’t want to avoid victimization by a criminal attacker only to be later victimized by the criminal justice system.

If you don’t know what to say to responding officers (and their buddies, the investigating officers), ask to speak to an attorney before answering any questions. Yes, investigating officers may seem like they are on your side. They may even promise that you won’t go to jail if you just “answer a few questions.” But there’s really only one thing you should say . . .

I want to speak to an attorney and have him or her present with me before I answer questions.

Yes, you can answer questions like your name and date of birth, but aside from that, if you don’t know exactly what to say and how to say it, shut up. Except, of course, when you’re repeating, “I want to talk to an attorney before I give any statements or answer any questions.”

Make that your mantra, even if you believe it was a clear-cut case of self-defense.

In today’s climate, politically-motivated prosecutions happen on a regular basis. That’s hard to believe in this day and age, right? Here’s another proclamation from Captain Obvious:  not all prosecutors are big fans of gun owners or armed self-defense. In fact, it’s almost as if some Soros-funded prosecutors are on the side of violent criminals.

If you can remember what to tell responding officers, however, there may be something even better than simply asking for an attorney.

As a long-time student of the law of self-defense, I prefer the five-point plan I learned back in the day from Massad Ayoob at his Lethal Force Institute classes (now the Massad Ayoob Group).

This particular post-incident plan for interacting with police officers is the best I’ve encountered in almost thirty years of training classes I’ve attended so far. It sets the tone of the investigation. It offers you an opportunity to make sure relevant evidence is discovered and identified. At the same time lets the officers know that you know your rights.

I’m such a believer in this strategy, it’s what I’ve taught for nearly twenty-five years as an instructor. Here’s the quick and dirty:

  1. PLAY THE VICTIM: Claim your role as the victim to responding/investigating officers. Example: “That guy tried to rob me and I thought he was going to kill me!”
  2. TELL COPS YOU’LL COOPERATE WITH THE PROSECUTION OF THE OFFENDER:  Tell the police you’ll cooperate with the offender’s prosecution should he or she survive.
  3. IDENTIFY THE EVIDENCE: Point out any evidence at the scene. Identify for the officers all relevant items. Police aren’t all-knowing and they might miss important evidence that could help in your exoneration. If the bad guy had a partner who ran away, provide a description. Investigators can and do miss evidence, shell casings can blow away or get caught in boot soles, or witnesses may scoop up souvenirs.
  4. POINT OUT WITNESSES: Identify any witnesses who saw the encounter. Oftentimes witnesses will claim to have seen nothing.
  5. I WANT MY LAWYER: Ask to talk to an attorney before giving a statement or answering any questions. Yes, it’s okay to tell cops your name, address and date of birth without Clarence Darrow at your side. But questions about what happened or what you saw, or how you perceive what happened? Nope. Repeat after me: “I’ll be happy to answer after I’ve talked to my attorney.”

Here’s how it might go: You shoot some guy who’s stabbing a woman in the parking lot of your local Walmart. The cops show up and secure the scene. You’ve already holstered up prior to the police arrival for your own safety, but witnesses have identified you as the shooter. The cops put you in handcuffs, then start asking questions.

“Officer, that guy over there was stabbing that woman so I shot him to stop his attack. If he survives, I’ll happily cooperate with his prosecution. His knife is over there. Those people saw what happened. I would be happy to answer questions and make a statement, but I want my attorney present before I do so.”

Marty Hayes, from the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network added his thoughts on asking for an attorney without adding any additional information to cops in his article “You Have The Right To Remain Silent” . . .

First, don’t act like a guilty man or woman. When the first words out of your mouth are, “I want my lawyer,” you have done a surprisingly good imitation of a street-wise criminal. What is any self-respecting cop supposed to think? Dead body + gun + “I want my lawyer” = jail.

If, on the other hand, the officer hears, “My life was threatened, I had to shoot,” he forms a slightly different picture. In addition, if he first learned of the incident by a call from you to 9-1-1, and at that time you indicated that you were the victim of a robbery (or whatever crime caused you to believe your life was in danger) then he forms a different picture of the call before he even gets there.

Indeed.

You can do a lot worse than asking for an attorney when police start asking questions. You can do better, though, if you can remember those aforementioned points: play the victim, express a willingness to cooperate, point out the evidence and witnesses and then ask for an attorney before answering questions.

What about the ambulance ride?

Frankly, unless you’re used to getting into defensive gun uses with alarming regularity, you may also need an ambulance ride to the emergency room to get checked out. Don’t lie and claim you’re feeling like you’re having a heart attack. But if you don’t feel well, articulate it as just that and ask for an ambulance.

As an example, my lovely bride paid up my life insurance and paid for me to go skydiving for my 50th birthday. Yep, I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane at about 13,600 feet.  Twenty minutes after a great landing, it took a great deal of effort to stand up after the adrenaline wore off.

If you have a near-death experience involving gunfire, you may have a similar response…or worse. Your blood pressure may well be in the stratosphere. You may be in the early stages of an anxiety attack or worse. You may have suffered an injury that you don’t even realize. What’s more, you’ve probably not had an adrenaline dump like that in a long time, if ever.

Not only that, but expect that medical professionals will take your blood and do a toxicology screen. If you’re sober, that will look good to investigators, prosecutors, and a potential jury. It’ll also help thwart a malicious prosecutor, too.

Not only should you consider what you would tell police, but even better, if you had an insurance policy of sorts that would pay for your legal defense fees, that could prove priceless for you and your family.  A base policy from US Law Shield is about $150 for a year. Or about the cost of a few boxes of 9mm practice ammo. Don’t like US Law Shield?  Try Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network or USCCA.

Regardless where you get your coverage, get some today. Unless, of course, you have at least a hundred grand sitting in the bank that you’re eager to spend on a retainer for a criminal defense attorney.

The bottom line: think about what you will say to police in the aftermath of any use of force incident. Don’t get caught flat-footed and say something that will later be used against you in a court of law…criminal or civil.

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